Escape through the Pyrenees

Escape through the Pyrenees

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Fleeing the Nazis, anti-fascist activists Lisa Fittko and her husband Hans fled Germany to the safety of France shortly before the outbreak of World War II. The French, despite the fact that Germany had revoked their citizenship, treated them as enemy aliens and in 1940 they were detained for several months and isolated in separate concentration camps. Fittko experienced hunger, illness and chaos of the Gurs camp, but at no point did she lose hope. As the Germans advanced, she managed to escape from the camp and find her husband in the unoccupied French south. There the Fittko couple, waiting for passports and transit visas, helped in transporting the other emigrants, including the great philosopher Walter Benjamin, across the Pyrenees to Spain.

Escape through the Pyrenees are poignant memoirs from the times of the twilight of humanity, that testify of the cowardice and xenophobia of war, but also the courage of the people who defied it.

* * *

It was in this vineyard that Walter Benjamin gave up for the first and only time. More precisely, he tried to move up the slope, but failed and then calmly stated that it was beyond his strength. José and I each grabbed him from our sides, put his hands over our shoulders and dragged him and his bag along the vineyard. He was breathing hard, but he wasn't complaining – he didn't even sigh – but he kept looking at his bag.

* * *

On our last ‘trip’, we went to the villages where other women from the group were accommodated and informed them about our plans. Along the way we saw Hanna Arendt walking about a meadow near the village where she was hiding. She also has also been intending to move on soon. ‘Will you come to Lourdes with us?’ we asked.
‘I feel safer alone’ she replied. ‘The chance of survival is worse in the herd.’


* * *

Lisa Fittko (1909–2005) was born into a Jewish family in Uzhhorod in present-day Ukraine, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy at the time. After the Nazis came to power, she became an active member of anti-fascist initiatives. She participated in the resistance movement in Berlin, Prague (where she met her husband and comrade-in-arms, Hans Fittko), Amsterdam, Paris, Marseille and finally, in the Pyrenees. Walter Benjamin, German philosopher and writer, stands out among many who she helped to escape the Nazis.
In 1941, she and her husband fled to Cuba, Havana, where she worked at the Center for Teaching Jewish Refugees and later in the United States. Forty years later she became internationally known for her memoirs Solidarity and Betrayal: Resistance and Persecution, 1933–1940 and Escape through the Pyrenees, translated into a large number of languages, in which she describes her ventures.


  • ISBN: 978-953-8075-88-9
  • Dimensions: 128x200 mm
  • Number of pages: 336
  • Cover: paperback
  • Year of the edition: 2021
  • Original title: Mein Weg über die Pyrenäen. Erinnerungen 1940/41
  • Original language: German
  • Translation: Nadežda Čačinovič